Bahrani people

The Baharna (Arabic: بحراني ، بحارنة) are an ethnoreligious group whom mainly inhabit the historical region of Eastern Arabia. They are regarded by some scholars to be the original inhabitants of the Bahrain archipelago.[1] Most Shi'i Bahraini citizens are ethnic Bahrana. Regions with most of the population are in Eastern Arabia, Bahrain, Qatif, al-Hasa, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iran, Iraq


The origin of Baharna is uncertain;[1] there are different theories regarding their origins. Several Western scholars believe the Baharna originate from Bahrain's pre-Islamic population which consisted of partially-Christianized Arabs,[2][3] Persian Zoroastrians, Jews[1] and Aramaic-speaking agriculturalists.[2][4][5] According to one historian, Arab settlements in Bahrain may have begun around 300 B.C. and control of the island was maintained by the Rabyah tribe, who converted to Islam in 630 A.D.[6] One theory claims the Baharna "immigrated to Bahrain during the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates from different parts of the Muslim world."[2]

There are many gaps and inconsistencies in the genealogies of those claiming descent from the Banu Abdul Qays in Bahrain, therefore Baharna are probably descendants of an ethnically-mixed population.[7] Bahraini society has traditionally divided itself into three genealogical categories in order: ansab (clear genealogies), la ansab (unclear genealogies) and bani khudair (foreigner).[8] Baharna were "la ansab" because they have uncertain ancestry.[8]

The Bahrani Arabic dialect exhibits Akkadian, Aramaic and Syriac features.[9][10] The sedentary people of pre-Islamic Bahrain were Aramaic speakers and to some degree Persian speakers, while Syriac functioned as a liturgical language.[4] The Bahraini dialect might have borrowed the Akkadian, Aramaic and Syriac features from Mesopotamian Arabic.[11]

Since only little is known about their ancestry, Sir Robert Hay referred to the Baharna as "Arabs without a pedigree".[1] According to Robert Bertram Serjeant, the Baharna may be the Arabized "descendants of converts from the original population of Christians (Aramaeans), Jews and ancient Persians (Majus) inhabiting the island and cultivated coastal provinces of Eastern Arabia at the time of the Arab conquest".[2][12]


See also: Ajam of Bahrain

The term Bahrani serves to distinguish the Bahrani people from other Shia in Bahrain, such as the ethnic Persian Bahrainis who fall under the term Ajam, as well as from the Sunni Najdi immigrants in Bahrain who are known as Al Arab ("Arabs").[13]

The "Hasawis" of al-Hasa are ethnically distant from Bahranis.[14][15]

In the United Arab Emirates, the term "Baharna" refers to Arabic-speaking Shia regardless of their origins.[16]


In Arabic, bahrayn is the dual form of bahr ("sea"), so al-Bahrayn means "the Two Seas". However, which two seas were originally intended remains in dispute.[17] The term appears five times in the Qur'an, but does not refer to the modern islandoriginally known to the Arabs as "Awal"but rather to the oasis of Qatif and Hajar (modern al-Hasa).[17] It is unclear when the term began to refer exclusively to Awal, but it was probably after the 15th century.

Today, Bahrain's "two seas" are instead generally taken to be the bay east and west of the island,[18] the seas north and south of the island, or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground.[19] In addition to wells, there are places in the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water, noted by visitors since antiquity.[20]

An alternate theory offered by al-Ahsa was that the two seas were the Persian Gulf and a peaceful lake on the mainland; still another provided by Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari is that the more formal name Bahri (lit. "belonging to the sea") would have been misunderstood and so was opted against.[19]


Local anecdotal evidence suggests that the Baharna's Arab ancestry is diverse as some word variants spoken in the dialects of the native people of the villages of Bani Jamra and A'ali are only used in places as far as Yemen and Oman (putative homeland of the natives of A'ali).[21]

Members of the Banu Abdul Qays in Eastern Arabia were mostly Nestorian Christians before the seventh century.[22]

See also

Language and culture


Bahrani People


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Social and political change in Bahrain since the First World War" (PDF). Durham University. 1973. pp. 46–47.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary". Clive Holes. 2001. pp. XXIV–XXVI. Thus the elements in the pre-Islamic ethno-linguistic situation in eastern Arabia appear to have been a mixed tribal population of partially Christianised Arabs of diverse origins who probably spoke different old Arabian vernaculars; a mobile Persian-speaking population, possibly of traders and administrators, with strong links to Persia, which they maintained close contact; a sedentary, non-tribal community of Aramaic-speaking agriculturalists; a Persian clergy, who we know for certain, used Syriac as a language of liturgy and writing more generally, probably alongside Persian as a spoken language.
  4. 1 2 "Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Language And Literature". J R Smart, J. R. Smart. 2013.
  5. "E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 5". M. Th. Houtsma. 1993. p. 98.
  6. Bahrain History/Background (Archived) Archived October 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. Brian John Ulrich (2007). Constructing Al-Azd: Tribal Identity and Society in the Early Islamic Centuries. p. 107.
  8. 1 2 "Iranians in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates". Eric Andrew McCoy. pp. 70–71.
  9. "Non-Arabic Semitic elements in the Arabic dialects of Eastern Arabia". Clive Holes. 2002. pp. 270–279.
  10. "Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary". Clive Holes. 2001. pp. XXIX–XXX.
  11. Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary By Clive Holes. Page XXIX
  12. Robert Bertram Serjeant (1968). "Fisher-folk and fish-traps in al-Bahrain". SOAS. p. 488.
  13. Lorimer, John Gordon, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia, republished by Gregg International Publishers Limited Westemead. Farnborough, Hants., England and Irish University Press, Shannon, Irelend. Printed in Holland, 1970, Vol. II A, entries on "Bahrain" and "Baharna"
  14. "Iranians in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates: Migration, minorities, and identities in the Persian Gulf Arab States". Himanshu Prabha Ray. 2008. pp. 68–69.
  15. "Reaching for Power: The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World". Yitzhak Nakash. 2006. p. 23.
  16. Iranians in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates: Migration, Minorities, and Identities in the Persian Gulf Arab States Google Books
  17. 1 2 Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. I. "Bahrayn", p. 941. E.J. Brill (Leiden), 1960.
  18. Room, Adrian. Origins and Meanings of the Names for 6,600 Countries, Cities, Territories, Natural Features and Historic Sites. 2006. ISBN 978-0-7864-2248-7.
  19. 1 2 Faroughy, Abbas. The Bahrein Islands (750–1951): A Contribution to the Study of Power Politics in the Persian Gulf. Verry, Fisher & Co. (New York), 1951.
  20. Rice, Michael. The Archaeology of the Arabian Gulf, c. 5000-323 BC. Routledge, 1994. ISBN 0415032687.
  21. Language Variation And Change In A Modernising Arab State: The Case Of Bahrain Google Books
  22. Peter Hellyer. Nestorian Christianity in the Pre-Islamic UAE and Southeastern Arabia, Journal of Social Affairs, volume 18, number 72, winter 2011

External links

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